44 Films: Film 17 of 44: 13th (2016)
Film 17 of 44:
Directed by Ava DuVernay
The United States has 5% of the world's population but 25% of the world's prisoners.
13th begins with a remarkable premise that will either surprise you, or leave you incredulous. To summarise it, The 13th Amendment led to the end of slavery, and a consequent labour and economic void in the South. The shortfall was addressed almost immediately by a clause in the amendment which pretty much made unpaid labour legal for convicted criminals, which was followed by the fervent incarceration of black people, a trend that has continued to today.
There are more African Americans under criminal supervision now than there were enslaved people in the 1850's.
DuVernay is aware that this is a grand postulation, so she presents a vehement, brilliantly curated series of interviews, events and statistics tracking the state of America's justice and prison system from Emancipation to present day. By the end of the documentary, the floorboards have been lifted, and another grisly part of America's racially-storied past is revealed. DuVernay and her host of co-storytellers are focused, frank, and so aware of this blatant legalised prejudice, that you'll wonder why it has been discussed so minimally. 13th is not a sensationalist piece of filmic reportage out for ratings. It is a timely and important documentary, made with laudable judiciousness. It lends a new perspective to racism in America at these crucial, harried times, which is great, unless of course, popular opinion consigns it to that cesspit of rhetoric that justifies the killing of innocent black people, and grants a racist misogynist every access to the presidency.
I watched this with a friend, and early on, we were enamoured and anxious. Its intentions and material aside, 13th is an outstanding film. However, and I hope I am wrong, a collective jaundice may have shown up when we weren't paying attention, that will deny this film and its stellar filmmaker, the legacy and attention they deserve. We must pay attention to 13th, not just as a statement of our times, but as a testament of a truly warped human system. If anyone doubts that it is accurate, or urgent, or honourable, or jarring, then I assure you, the problem isn't the film.
See you at Film #18.
13th is now available in full on Netflix. Watch the trailer below: